Catoms cartoon cats based on periodic elements

Category: Article

In the spirit of Chemistry Week this week, we’re shining a spotlight on chemist and Product Manager at TriLink BioTechnologies, Kieche O’Connell, PhD, who’s bringing a touch of magic to the world of chemistry education with her innovative concept known as “Catoms,” where cats take on the personalities of atoms to help teach kids about scientific elements, what they do and how they interact with each other. 

Kieche’s journey is that of unexpected turns, leading her to explore a world where chemistry and education combine. Her unique approach to science education is a fusion of innovation and a passion for nurturing the curiosity of the next generation.

catoms science game with cartoon character cats

A chemistry journey beyond expectations

Kieche’s path began with her earning her PhD in physical chemistry from UCLA. She studied nanoemulsions and expected to work in drug delivery research upon graduation, but while interviewing for jobs, she became intrigued by some unusual opportunities. Kieche interviewed for a role with the Navy as a corrosion subject matter expert, an area somewhat unrelated to her academic focus. A surprising question arose during the interview: “Are you afraid of heights?” Kieche soon discovered that this position demanded more than data analysis, technical proficiency, and strong interpersonal skills; it also required her to conquer her fear of heights, involving scaling towering radio towers averaging 1,000 feet worldwide. 

Besides the physical demands of the job, Kieche’s list of responsibilities included finding innovative solutions for common problems, authoring grant proposals to secure funding for testing, and evaluating new corrosion prevention methods. Ultimately, this role’s responsibilities and unexpected experiences exposed her to diverse skills and found her directing policy for best practices in corrosion prevention. Having a growth mindset and embracing change were the keys to unlocking these new skills and experiences that made this transition possible. They also helped her to imagine new possibilities for her career path.

Embracing change and expanding horizons

Although she appreciated this challenging and exciting role for over a decade, she decided to change gears to something she felt would have more impact and be more aligned with her interests. Recognizing her passion for business strategy and love of working with people, Kieche decided to pivot her career by starting an MBA program, allowing her to gain a fresh perspective and transition from a technical role to a management position. The program was not only educational but also led her to discover her affinity for corporate strategy cases and her deep enjoyment of collaborating with teams. Biotech seemed like the perfect fit as it combined diverse teamwork, business strategy, and her chemistry background.

Kieche joined the Maravai family in 2022 as a product manager at TriLink Biotechnologies, focused on oligonucleotides, where she has been able to meld her first love of science with her new managerial skills. 

woman in scientific lab

Catoms: educating and inspiring

But what sets Kieche apart is her creation, “Catoms.” This ingenious concept has manifested as a captivating universe of cats, where each feline represents a different element and embodies a corresponding “personality” aligned with the behavior of the element itself. Her brainchild offers a fun and immersive approach to teaching children about the periodic table.

With her graphic designer nephew, Kieche has brought Catoms to life with fun storylines, character interactions, and engaging games that promise to make the learning experience truly enjoyable. There are 118 elements to explore and collect in this dynamic world, targeting curious minds in the age range of 6 to 11.

Catoms science game of trading cards on periodic elements

At Maravai, we take pride in not only showcasing the multifaceted journey of Kieche but also her unwavering commitment to nurturing the scientific curiosity of the next generation. Her career path is an excellent example of how different life experiences can sometimes lead to unexpected shifts in one’s trajectory. Yet, it’s precisely these experiences that bring a special and invaluable difference to our companies. 

Connect with Kieche on LinkedIn, and stay tuned for more exciting stories about our #MiracleMakers.

Success and failure are part of innovation. Fall seven times, get up eight. But for those in life sciences, innovation is more than just trial and error. It’s a complex process of research and development that leads us to life-changing vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. And success is more critical than ever.

Today’s pharmaceutical is more complex, with growing and different regulatory requirements globally. It’s more uncertain – and even more exciting – given the emergence of breakthrough medical technologies, from mRNA to biologics to personalized medicines. It’s also more fiercely competitive, with new biotech disruptors entering the market, as well as many of the industry’s blockbuster patents expiring this decade. So, it’s no wonder that 91% of life sciences organizations tell Deloitte they plan to invest more in R&D innovation this year.

The noblest cause in science is to dedicate your life to trying to develop new, life-changing medicines that can make a significant positive impact on people’s lives.”

Kate Broderick, PhD
Chief Innovation Officer, Maravai LifeSciences

Yet, the industry faces several challenges that inhibit innovation, such as recovering from pandemic-induced supply chain crunches, overcoming talent shortages, and finding expertise in emerging applications, and the exponentially rising costs of bringing new products to market. In fact, IBM reports that the cost of active pharmaceutical ingredients alone has increased by up to 70% in the past five years.

Overcoming these barriers and bringing novel innovations to market demands standard-setting tools and technologies, highly rigorous processes, and incredible will and determination. But even when you have all of that, sometimes it still isn’t enough.

Facing known and unknown obstacles at every turn, not to mention looming economic unrest, navigating the complexity of the life sciences landscape can be overwhelming for even the most experienced organizations. At the same time, growing life sciences companies typically struggle due to lack of infrastructure.

Given all of this, the difference between the success and failure of a novel innovation can be the right partner by your side to give you the spark of inspiration and support you need to keep moving forward.

A partner who enables the miracles of science

Maravai LifeSciences and its brands are the proven catalysts for helping deliver novel vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to biotech, biopharma and life sciences companies across the globe. As a leading life sciences services and materials company, Maravai is helping strengthen these organizations’ capabilities in their pursuit of next-generation medicines.

No matter its size, any life sciences company will thrive with Maravai in their corner, especially given Maravai’s remarkable infrastructure and the perspectives its experts have gleaned from more than three decades on the cutting edge of life sciences. This solid foundation empowers pharma and biotech organizations with the resources needed to develop into the companies they’ve always envisioned.

A partner who’s innovating novel innovation

What truly sets Maravai apart, however, is its fresh approach to innovation.

“The difference between ideas and innovation is that you take an idea and you make it something tangible and pliable to solve a problem,” says Kate Broderick, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) at Maravai. “We look to see what’s needed in the field, what our clients need for their customers’ needs, and try to predict what [they] need before they know they need it.”

Though it’s true that there are complicated layers to a rewarding partnership, Maravai boasts a winning combination of industry-leading products and services, relentless commitment to quality, agility and responsiveness, and development and manufacturing expertise to make all phases of development as frictionless as possible.

That means less time figuring out logistics, and more time spent ideating, collaborating, and innovating.

Anybody can find a better way. Anybody can come up with a good idea to improve our products or services. Maravai really wants to embrace that sense of creativity and inclusivity to ensure that every member of our team feels that they, if they have an idea, can share it.”

Kate Broderick, PhD
Chief Innovation Officer, Maravai LifeSciences

Another part of Maravai’s approach to innovation is simple: amplifying the science. That means letting scientists do what they do best, without the red tape and rigidity of typical large life sciences partners.

“We allow developers to generate, produce, and develop the best products that they possibly can by using our technology,” says Broderick. “We allow the developers to focus on their targets of interest, utilize our huge expanse of knowledge, and apply our technology to their project.”

A proven partner with the expertise to match

For more than 35 years, Maravai and its brands have been offering customers a platform for innovation. Maravai brands offer more than 1,500 products in our portfolio, including TriLink’s flagship product CleanCap®, our novel mRNA capping solution. In fact, our mRNA and CleanCap® products have been incorporated in more than 250 vaccine and therapeutic programs in development. And, 17 out of 17 approved cell and gene therapies rely on Maravai’s Cygnus testing solutions to assure their purity and safety.

Maravai’s approach to innovation empowers and encourages its partners to innovate in everything they do. From getting to first-in-human or first-in-market, whether powering personalized medicines or helping deliver revolutionary mRNA therapies, Maravai is with you at every step to overcome barriers and accelerate progress to your next breakthrough…just in time to answer, “What’s next?”